Who were your top three earliest influences as a lead player before you turned thirty?
The first trombone player that really grabbed my attention was Phil Wilson with the Woody Herman band around 1964. In the band room where we rehearsed was a built-in turntable with two sets of headphones (which was a new thing to us at that time) and one of the records that was there was Woody Herman-1963, Swingin’est Big Band Ever. I was about 13 years old and had just started playing lead trombone in the Jr. High school jazz band. There is a ballad on the record called It’s a Lonesome Old Town (When You’re Not Around) and Phil plays a solo that just amazed me. I can still remember the feeling I had when I heard it back then. He comes in on a Double A and plays this gliss down into the melody that I listened to hundreds of times until I wore the record out trying to figure out how he did it. (I never did.) He also ends the tune on another Double A. I got my own copy of the record and listened to it all the time. I loved his approach to playing. He also played several up-tempo solos on the record that I really liked. Phil was my teacher years later when I went to college at Berklee School of Music in Boston.
A couple of years later, when I was 15, I made my first trip to the Stan Kenton Clinics in Redlands California. There I met Dick Shearer who was the lead player with Stan’s band. Each evening after dinner the band would play a concert and I got to sit up close to the trombone section every night and really check out what they were doing. Dick became a friend and mentor to me during my high school years.
Also around that time I discovered the incredible playing of Urbie Green, first through the record he made with Twenty-One Trombones and later through various records that I could get hold of. His lead playing had a very big influence on me. I don’t believe there was ever anyone better.
I also began listening to a lot of jazz trombone players. My favorite was J.J Johnson and I tried to listen to as many of his records as I could get hold of. Curtis Fuller was also a favorite and I listened to him a lot on all of the Art Blakey records that he was on with Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan and all those guys.